LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday denounced a 90-day extension that four Northwest Arkansas law enforcement agencies received to enforce federal immigration laws.
The ACLU accused Arkansas agencies and others nationwide of using the program administered by the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest law abiding immigrants, not the "worst of the worst" criminals that the program purports to identify and deport.
The Benton and Washington County sheriff’s offices and the Rogers and Fayetteville police departments participate in the the program, which has been in place since 2007 and was set to expire September 30.
"Immigrants have reported that local police are targeting anyone who may be an immigrant, and are policing markets, churches and areas of town frequented by Hispanic or Latino populations for immigration, and not criminal issues," said Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas ACLU.
"This is offensive to American values and undermines immigrants’ trust in local law enforcement and the American rule of law," she said, adding that the government has also "undermined the trust of the American people by making no attempt to address with local police the disconnect between the program’s stated purpose and the realities of its enforcement."
Representatives of the four local law enforcement agencies in Arkansas did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday.
Sklar noted the program has been criticized by the Homeland Security’s inspector general and denounced by civil rights groups for promoting racial profiling of Latinos in particular.
She referred to ICE data for Arkansas showing that 62 percent of those apprehended in the program in the state either have no criminal record or are accused of misdemeanors or citation-level offenses.